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Independence for the Modern Wine Drinker

Happy Independence Day from the United States, where we're celebrating the historical casting off of the "chains" in which our "colonial rulers" bound us. As the fireworks burst and crackle unseen through the fog here in San Francisco and I catch up on my reading from around the blogosphere, I've been musing on whether the average wine drinker has anything to celebrate in the way of independence these days.

The first and most dear form of independence for me as you might imagine is the freedom from dependence on the Powers That Be for information, opinion, and insight when it comes to wine. While Tom Wark, in a fit of bourbon-addled self-loathing, may have decided that Wine Blogs Dont Matter, in point of fact, never before in history have there been so many great places to read to your hearts content about wine for free. From the blogs of the world, to the tasting notes available online, to the zany antics of my buddy Gary and his legions of imitators, a new generation of wine lovers finds itself honestly unshackled from the ParkTator for the first time.

We all have an extra $49.95 a year to spend on wine, and a way to waste thousands of hours that should be spent drinking instead of surfing. Oh well. It's a start.

Intellectual liberation is just the start however. Psychotic state legislatures and dumb-ass circuit courts of appeal notwithstanding, we are entering an age where wine lovers have better access to the wines of the world than ever before in history. While I am no doubt waaaay premature in declaring independence from the yokes of corrupt, parochial, and/or moralistic government and judicial influence over how and where we buy our wine, as a wise man once said, "The times they are a-changin'."

Interstate shipping aside, we U.S. wine lovers would do well to celebrate our independence from monotony and monopoly when it comes to the selection of wines available between our shores. The sheer diversity (and volume) of different wines from different regions of the world that are now at our fingertips, thanks to the efforts of importers, is staggeringly awesome in comparison to even 30 years ago. To give you some perspective, I was recently reminded that 30 years ago you could count on two hands the number of restaurants in this country that had Spanish wines on their wine list. Being a wine importer has suddenly become a fashionable and fun thing to do in the last decade, and there are hundreds of people eagerly following in the footsteps of pioneers like Kermit Lynch and Terry Theise to seek out great new wines and producers and bring them to us to enjoy.

All that said, we could do with a few more manifestos against, and independence from, a bunch of things that still continue to oppress us in the wine world. So in keeping with the principles of the founding fathers, here is a Declaration of Further Independence for the enlightened wine lover.

When in the course of our evolution as wine loving people, it becomes not only necessary but natural to throw off the bonds of ignorance, precedence, class, and the wisdom of the Establishment, in order to forge a more perfect relationship with our chosen beverage, a decent respect for history and tradition requires that we declare the reasons for our rebellion.

We hold these truths to be self evident: that every adult, 21 years of age or older, is endowed with the capacity to appreciate and enjoy wine and should have every opportunity to do so, free from the abuses and oppressions of an Establishment that seeks to impose the traditions of the past on a changed world. The history of this Establishment is one of privilege, prejudice, and a smug propriety that terrorizes new wine lovers into conforming with its demands rather than choosing a natural path to their own enjoyment.

It is with necessity, then, that we submit that the following fallacies and prescriptions, ideologies and traditions, fears and insecurities, shall no longer bind our actions and dictate our fates as wine lovers:

We will drink wine out of whatever damn vessel we choose, and refuse to purchase, own, or believe that we need different shapes of wine glasses in order to enjoy different kinds of wine.

We will stop believing that just because a wine received less than 90 points from Someone Whose Name We Have Heard of, we will not fully enjoy, even love it.

We will stop thinking that we need to know anything about wine to enjoy it or drink it on a regular basis.

We will no longer live in fear of being asked to choose a wine from a wine list, and will instead ask questions, like rational human beings, of the restaurant staff if we need help selecting a wine for dinner that is in our price range.

We will stop believing that there is an Ideal Wine Pairing for every kind of food and that the matching of wine and food is an art that requires deep knowledge and experience unpossessed by the average wine drinker.

We will no longer be afraid to buy wines that don't have the name of a grape that we recognize on the label, or have words that we cannot possibly pronounce on them.

We will cease our misguided historical beliefs that wines closed with a screwcap must be inferior, and that a wine which is organic must taste vile.

And we will, above all, refuse to entertain the idea that wine, especially Champagne, is a drink for special occasions and will instead drink more and more often of all manner of wines -- so that we may enjoy our lives, our meals, and our friends with greater pleasure and health.

We, therefore, the representatives of a new generation of wine lovers, do solemnly publish and declare ourselves separated, independent, and divorced from these oppressions of the past and the Establishment which perpetrated them. As free and independent wine lovers we have the power to forge our own paths in the world of wine, seeking our enjoyment and education however, whenever, and wherever we see fit, as free men and women ought to do with wine glass in hand.

* * *

If you agree, put your John Hancock here _________________.

Great. Now go out, blow some shit up, and then sit down and have a nice glass of wine with friends and toast your independence. I'm toasting mine right now.

Comments (19)

Enobytes wrote:
07.04.09 at 11:58 PM

Bravo Alder. I prefer not to blow shit up but I'll definitely sign the declaration. Happy 4th!

Bob Simmons wrote:
07.05.09 at 12:30 AM

As the Founders might have said in '76, "Huzzah to that!"

With respect to the liberation of Champagne consumption, we would do well to remember the stirring battle-cry of Lily Bollinger, who is reputed to have declared:

"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry, and I drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it...unless I'm thirsty."

"Huzzah!" to that as well.
Happy Independence Day!

Bob R. wrote:
07.05.09 at 6:04 AM

Great thoughts. I'd sign my name to it if I knew how to do it on-line.

07.05.09 at 1:04 PM

First off, kudos on a wonderful declaration! Second, agreed on not being so big on blowing things up. And lastly, regarding Champagne, one neeed only watch "Casablanca" (greatest movie ever, in my book, and the gold standard of honorable social conduct) to see what true Champagne consumption should be about; meaning, often, and out of Coupe glasses. Down with the tyranny of the flute!


Christopher Watkins

07.05.09 at 1:05 PM

If blowing some shit up and smoking some shit are roughly the same, then I'll drink to that! Otherwise, I'll probably just drink, anyway...

Randy Sloan wrote:
07.05.09 at 1:14 PM

Very well said.

I will sign.

Weston wrote:
07.05.09 at 8:25 PM

should make the drinking age 18 like Alberta and Quebec!

aimee m. wrote:
07.06.09 at 1:43 AM

hear, hear. open minds, open hearts, open bottles.

Dylan wrote:
07.06.09 at 4:48 AM

Alder, you're quite onto something here. You should consider creating a pledge of allegiance to wine. Something any embarking newcomer shall recite from her first sip to his last drop. A practice in centering oneself before greeting a new bottle or revisiting an old experience. An oath of loyalty to this declaration you've written out:

I pledge allegiance to exploring wine from wherever it may grow, and to true curiosity for which it stands, one force, relentless, with liberty and truth for all.

Neil wrote:
07.06.09 at 11:17 AM

Amen brother!! I have to constantly defend my cheap (err, inexpensive) wine glasses from Ikea. I'd love a full set of Riedel stemware but

a) I don't have enough room in my house for a set of syrah glasse, chard glasses, cab glasses, merlot glasses, petite sirah glasses, riesling glasses, rose glasses, etc


b) at the rate we break glasses at our house, I'd have to replace them monthly.

When do we put these amendments on the ballot?

07.06.09 at 4:00 PM

Does this mean that I can now drink those $100 Rochioli Pinot Noirs you like so much out of my Dixie Cups?

Alder wrote:
07.06.09 at 4:06 PM

Absolutely. A (washed) coffee mug works fine too.

Enobytes wrote:
07.06.09 at 8:05 PM

whoo hoo! I'm placing stock in Dixie Cups. Mad Money Cramer just did a boo-yah! on the hot stock tip so buy, buy buy! :)


Chris Lopez wrote:
07.07.09 at 2:12 PM

Christopher T Lopez

Signed and sealed!

Adam wrote:
07.08.09 at 6:02 AM

Alder, your comments are uplifting and reflective of friendly trends for wine enthusiasts. A looming threat to full independence for contemporary wine enthusiasts is the out of control price escalation since the early 80's for classic wines. With a nod and strong vote of stconcurrence to your celebration of independence, here is a sobering look at the cost of 11 cases of Bordeaux((1) Cheval Blanc (2) Ausone (3) Cos DíEstournel (4) Haut Brion (5) Lafite (6) Margaux (7) Mouton (8) Latour (9) Pichon Lalande (10) Rauzan Segla (11) Vieux Chateau Certan) bought on futures in three good vintages. How does the average wine enthusiast participate and declare full independence to pursue some of the greatest wines in the world?

Vintage 11 Case Futures Price

1982 $3,285

1990 $15,090

2005 $70,774

Adam Japko

Tish wrote:
07.08.09 at 6:30 AM

I'll sign on. THe only asterisk I'd include is my feeling that the only truly critical aspect of this "Declaration" is the one, regarding access to this wondrous beverage. In other words, I don't see anyone stopping anyone from embracing the other points of personal wine expression. Shipping and shopping, however, are still in the Dark Ages.

It is utterly amazing that with all the progress wine has seen in the past decade or so, the channels of availability have remained stubbornly (and artificially) blocked. My impression is that the wholesalers will continue to thwart true "freedom" until there is enough hardship to agitate the cognescenti, if not the masses. Fortunately or unfortunately enough, there is just so much "good stuff" out there to be had, fairly easily, that there is not so much urgency to push for even more for the "Further Independence"

As for Adam Japko's point about prices, I think that is a totally separate issue. The forces that have driven prices are what they are. How much $$$ someone has to pay for X, Y or Z wine is distinct from being ABLE to buy X, Y or Z. Sure, the free market of prices for top-end wines would flex if availability changes, but that is still a matter of budget and taste, separate from availability.

Adam wrote:
07.08.09 at 8:35 AM

It is a very fair distinction that Tish makes between the different forces that make wine unavailable to ship accross state lines and those that drove bordeaux prices by a factor of 20+X since 1982. You can't compare the driving forces there, but I think it is still fair to maintain that this kind of price escalation is unnaturally restrictive and prevents access to those that would like to participate, and should be able to participate.

Home prices had escalated to their highest pre bubble burst heights by less that 5X. They have adjusted downward sine. Is there any sense in a 20X price escalation for wine?

I am a pretty upwardly mobile guy, running companies since the late nineties. "C" level title. Wine is one of my three big passions. Why is it I have loads of pre nineties Bordeaux in myc cellar and had to stop buying the wines I wanted as much as any other?

Why would a bottle of Le Pin or a bottle of Valandruad escalate the way they have? Is that natural? Isn't a relatively famous wine critic responsible for that wine to be priced out of context with its supply and comparative quality? Is that not unnatural?

I just feel that I was introduced to wine in the eighties and it was sensible to drink this kind of wine. I don't understand why its price escalation has to outstrip every other consumer product or luxury item. It feels restrictive in an unnatural way to me and defies independence....

07.09.09 at 2:28 PM

Blaming Robert Parker for price escalation is like blaming Alan Greenspan for the price escalation in housing or the stock market bubble.

The laws of supply and demand are only partially influnced by one critic, and then only for a few products. Available dollars chase desirable products. Wine became more desirable world-wide as the world economy grew faster than the wine supply, and the upper-middle class, of which you are a member, unless you are so wealthy that money does not matter, also grew.

When the dollars chasing a given commodity grow faster than the supply of that commodity, prices go up. No one has a "right" to drink Le Pin or DRC--although I certainly wish I did.

Adam, your expose of price escalation is interesting. The stock market plummeted by 50%. How did the prices for those wines fare? Oil dropped by 60%. How did the prices for those wines fare?

We cannot turn back the forces of the market, even with the Internet, and frankly, as wine gets increasingly able to be shipped, the demand for the best wines is going to continue to rise.

Adam wrote:
07.09.09 at 8:55 PM

If there is any confusion that a specific wine critic was likened to a particular Chairman of the Federal Reserve, I regret the inference. I better clarify a few points and expand on some others.

I only referred to two wines, Le Pin and Valandraud, because their *ultra* ridiculous price points were driven higher than the *merely* ridiculous price points of their peer group as a direct result of over the top Parker reviews. I raise this as only one example of supply and demand being unnaturally impacted by the inclination of a third party (critic preference instead of legislator politic) that made a wine impractical to acquire for many that would like to try it. So we agree on your point that critics can play a larger role in unnatural price escalation and demand creation for a *few* products, but definitely not all. It takes three to tango; seller, tastemaker, and buyer.

I won't argue your forecast that demand for ridiculously priced wine will hold to its hockey stick growth curve forever. I was in the technology and housing media businesses for 20 years and no matter what was going on in other sectors outside ours, all of us inside housing and tech could only see blue skies and irrational exuberance lasting forever. I learned the hard way not to forecast on the back of strong markets. I also won't try to make a case that demand for overpriced top quality wine could slip via consumer backlash; you come by your market forecast as honestly as we did in the frothy housing and tech markets.

Last point of clarification, I am not so wealthy that money does not matter. I grew up in an immigrant family in Brooklyn, so I don't even understand what it might feel like to have the automatic "right" to experience something luxurious. I only clarify all this so you can understand the essence of my point.

I love great wine. I was fortunate to start out with a special tasting group in NY 25 years ago made up of guys with palates and wine awareness that anyone I have since met with a passion or business interest in wine would aspire to. For $20-$25 bucks on the third Thursday of every month 15 of us would gather in a NY cellar and taste 12 of the best and hardest to find wines carefully selected and assembled in peer groups, blind. We did it to learn, enjoy, feed our love of wine, and inform our buying. We compared Bordeaux, top california cabs, super tuscans, top red and white burgundies, verticals of first growths, single vineyard cote roties and hermitage, luxury CDPs, Washington state wines when there were only a few, killer domestic pinot, merlot, zinfandel, chardonnay, etc. All for around $25 a guy. That was how I was introduced to wine. Those were the wines that taught me to love wine, the ones I bought, cut my teeth on, and developed an inclination for. I could afford them all and got hooked on wine for all the right reasons. It enriched my life forever.

I don't buy those wines anymore, out of pure sensibility. I can drink well for less. I still buy houses. I do buy oil. I do buy technology. I am over sneering at the laundry list of forces that combined to take those wines off my table due to unnatural price escalation. I have found alternatives to regular consumption of those wines. I live in a better house than I did 25 years ago, drive a nicer car, burn more oil, wear nicer clothes, eat at better restaurants....yet had to find wines of lesser pedigree as years passed. There is something really unnaturally wrong with that in my eyes.

If there really was a true consumer wine advocate active today, there would be equal effort and weight given to fair value assessment as there is to color, nose, attack, mouth feel, and finish. If Parker said three years in a row that Le Pin in the current vintage drinks no better than the rest of the 92 point wines in this report that sell for 1/100th its price and I think it is a foolish consumer that would buy Le Pin at the current offering price, do you think the price for Le Pin would stay at $4,000-$5,000 per bottle because of natural demand? Consumers have not been their own best advocates here, but neither has anyone with enough clout and influence to make and move markets.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.